Even in the face of tragic loss, Yashpal Saxena has, in the past few days, shown extraordinary character and conviction by taking a stand against any move to politicize or communalize his son's brutal murder.
Ankit Saxena, a 23-year-old photographer, was allegedly stabbed to death by the family members of his Muslim girlfriend in a crowded street in the western part of Delhi on 1 February. The family of the Muslim woman was opposed to her relationship with a Hindu man.
Speaking to NDTV on Monday, Saxena said, "I don't want any inflammatory statements. I feel very saddened by what happened, but I don't want anyone to create a hostile environment against Muslims. I have nothing against any religion."
"Yes, those who killed my son were Muslim...but every Muslim can't be branded for this. Don't use me to spread communal tension, don't drag me into it...I appeal to everyone not to link this to religion and vitiate the atmosphere," he said.
Even while mourning his son's untimely and senseless death, it is truly remarkable for Saxena to rise above his personal grief and nip in the bud any attempt to create a divide between Hindus and Muslims. In rejecting hate mongering and confrontation, he stands out as a rare voice of reason and compassion in a country that is experiencing polarization. His measured response is an example to so many of us who are mired in our own biases, personal, political and ideological, in the real world and on social media.
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Don't use me to spread communal tension, don't drag me into it...I appeal to everyone not to link this to religion and vitiate the atmosphere.
What is striking is that it took Saxena virtually no time to shut down any attempt to demonize the religious minority. His refusal to stay quiet in the face of hate mongering, as well as his appeal for calm and legal recourse, were natural and spontaneous. While reading about and listening to his words, one cannot help thinking that Saxena is saying the things - in letter and in spirit - that we have longed to hear from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Ever since the lynching of Mohammad Ahklaq in September 2015, the prime minister's responses to hate crimes have not only between few and far between, but as the subsequent acts of violence have proved, ineffectual. Even as the country has slid into an abyss, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders have defended the prime minister's hands-off approach by characterizing hate crimes as law and order problems, which don't necessarily warrant a response from the head of government.
Saxena's clear stand in the aftermath of his son's death contained the anger and stymied the mischief that tends to follow incidents of this nature. The prime minister, however, has stopped short of reassuring the nation at several critical junctures in the past three years. Even in the wake of hate crimes like Junaid Khan's murder on a train and the public flogging of Dalits, and the assault on free speech by members of the Karni Sena who did not allow Padmaavat to release in Rajasthan despite a Supreme Court order, the prime minister has shied away from publicly and forcefully reinforcing the secular and democratic credentials of this country.
Instead of batting for peace and harmony, the ruling dispensation has done very little to contain the far-right elements that have moved rapidly from the fringe to the mainstream. Fundamentalists justifying violence in the name of cow protection, while peddling conspiracy theories like 'Love Jihad' and 'Land Jihad,' have come to steer the course of the national conversation. And the prime minister himself has muddied the waters by his studied silence. He has also met with known Twitter trolls and followed persons who say, "a bitch died a dog's death" (following the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh).
Some might argue that electoral compulsions are what ultimately dictate a politician's course, even when he or she holds the high office of the prime minister. But if the hunger for power is the natural state for a politician, the unbearable grief of losing a child to someone else's fanaticism can take a parent to a dark place where the propensity is for retribution. Saxena's ability to transcend that base desire, especially in an environment which is breeding hate, is extraordinary.
Saxena has refused to be inducted into the hate mongering. In a conversation with Manoj Tiwari, president of the BJP in Delhi, one of the many politicians who made a beeline for Saxena's home, the father asked that his son's death not be politicized and shared just how disturbed he was by the media coverage.
"I had one son. If I get justice, it's good. If not, even then I don't have hatred against any community. I have no such thinking. I am unable to understand why the media is showing this issue in that way," he said , the Caravan Daily reported. "They come and talk to me so softly and lovingly but show something else on TV. My relatives, neighbours come and tell me about what is being shown on TV channels. They are using words like 'premi', 'Muslim', 'mazhab' and twisting facts. All are making just stories."
"Media is taking it as a joke. They are showing visuals of Ankit going on a scooter and a Muslim man stabbing him from behind. What the hell is that?" Headlines like 'Horror Murder in Delhi' are flashing on TV. We don't want that," he said. "If you want to join us, join us with your hearts. We don't want politicians coming for photo-ops. If that is the case, we will fight our case ourselves."
I had one son. If I get justice, it's good. If not, even then I don't have hatred against any community. I have no such thinking.
Saxena asked for speedy justice and highlighted the awful state of public apathy. Not a single person who was present on the busy street in west Delhi, where his son met his end, came forward to the help the young man. "There were thousands there, but not one person helped or tried to take him to a hospital," he said.
There were thousands there, but not one person helped or tried to take him to a hospital.
Saxena's remarks are like a ray of hope piercing the fear and aggression that is starting to manifest itself in our daily lives, spilling from the virtual into the real world.
Just one chilling example is the Facebook page 'Hindutva Varta' which has posted a list of over 100 couples (Hindu women in a relationship with Muslim men) and called for "every Hindu lion" to "hunt" the men on this list. While the post calling for violence against Muslims has been deleted, the Facebook page still exists. AltNews reported that the list of couples was reproduced on another Facebook page called "Justice for Hindus." Both pages routinely post messages inciting violence.
Saxena's friends and family, however, are launching a different kind of Facebook page, one appealing for justice, not hate. They told News 18, "Before being a Hindu or a Muslim, we are humans first. That's the motto of this page. People should not communalize."
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